Peril in Bloodstone
Where the Region Stands Now
Peace in Damara is far from secure, although the prospects for it seem much more promising. Still, difficult problems face the people of the land.
First of all, although it united under Gareth for the strike against the forces of Vaasa, Damara remains divided, in spirit at least. The petty barons and dukes who tasted power in their pseudo-autonomy under the Witch-King are reluctant to relinquish control of their lands to a single king leading a reunited Damara. Several of them have a claim to the throne left empty when King Virdin was slain, particularly Dimian Ree. None are of direct descent, however, and the ascension of any claimant would be fraught with uprisings and covert coups.
The northern provinces remain in the clutches of the Vaasan scum. Although twice defeated, the bandit army has yet to be destroyed. Furthermore, Vaasa itself remains unconquered by any, and that forsaken land holds many holes filled with goblins, giants and other reminders of the Witch-King's reign.
Furthermore, two strange events have Gareth and all of his friends worried about the future. First, three flights of dragons — reds, blues, and blacks — have flown high through Damara and over the Galena Mountains, heading generally in the direction of the ruins of Castle Perilous. It is rumored that a flight of green dragons will soon follow, and thereafter they will all be joined from a huge group of whites from the Great Glacier.
The second disquieting situation is that a strange cloud has engulfed the top of Suncatcher Mountain, a tall peak found where the Galenas join the Earthspur range. This cloud seems to defy the winds, for it does not move. Witnesses have said that if the mountain is viewed at the proper angle when the sun is low, the shining spires of an immense castle are clearly visible.
Undeniably, the people of Damara still have much to do before the area settles back down. Gareth and his friends are working to enact a four-part plan designed to stabilize the region.
1. At Home:
Gareth and Friar Dugald remain in Bloodstone Village, securing their home base. Gareth is determined to provide the people of Damara with strong centralized power. To do this, he strengthens the ties to his closest allies. Baroness Christine, a druid, has links with the centaurs and halflings of the woodland south of the village. Gareth visits the dwarves and gnomes of the mines every week. On Kane's advice, Gareth has spent some effort soliciting the goodwill of the Monastery of the Yellow Rose. He has invited Cantoule, the new Grandmaster of Flowers, to visit Bloodstone Village. If the Monastery throws its support behind the new baron, as expected, Gareth's power will be greatly increased.
Perhaps the most notable event in Bloodstone is the construction of "the Gates." These two massive fortresses, largely completed, secure the entrances to Bloodstone Pass and protect the mines. Whatever the future of Damara holds, the valley around Bloodstone Pass is secured as the mightiest region of the Bloodstone Lands, with a guaranteed source of wealth.
2. The Northern Provinces:
A large contingent of the Bloodstone army under the command of Olwen Forest-friend has been working to secure the northern provinces of Damara. Never free of the Witch-King, the people of this region have no self-proclaimed leaders and should readily swear allegiance to their rescuers. Gareth is determined to get there before one of the other dukes or barons takes it upon himself to invade. In particular, he seeks to head off the designs of Dimian Ree, formerly of Morov, but now of Heliogabalus.
Olwen's mission is described as the "five S's": squash the remaining Vaasan scum; supply the poor people of the region; secure the region and give it over to the people; seed them with hints of what is to come and with news of Bloodstone; and scout out the happenings over the borders in Vaasa and Narfell.
The first reports from the region indicate Olwen is having great success. He is rallying support for the instigation of the Kingdom of Bloodstone. Cries of "King Gareth!" resound through the streets of every rescued hamlet.
3. Preparations for Vaasa:
Certainly Gareth intends to strike hard into Vaasa after the situation in Damara settles down. ("But not until the region has been reunited — in the old kingdom or the new," Gareth has been heard to say with a sly wink.) The baron and the people he rules do not desire a return to the skirmish-filled days of the past. Formerly, Bloodstone Village and indeed all of northern Damara had to constantly seek out and destroy individual tribes of goblins or giants that had descended upon one of the farm communities, thinking them fair game. The Damarans want Vaasa put down, once and for all, and they envision a line of fortress-cities along the northern edge of the Galenas, each pulling its share of gemstones from new mines and patrolling the border.
For the present, Gareth keeps a wary eye on the scattered forces of his northern neighbor. He wants to make sure that no army can organize against Damara. Moreover, he recognizes the importance of having a full understanding of what he will be up against when he commits his troops to a campaign in the hostile land. He seeks news of the gathering dragons, the bandit army, and that mysterious cloud over Suncatcher Mountain.
To these ends, Gareth has commissioned Spysong, a network of scouts led by Kane, Celedon Kearney, and Riordan Parnell. Spysong has infiltrated the Galenas and traveled far into Vaasa itself. The network relays information back to Gareth and his allies in the form of coded, bard-spun ditties understandable only by the right ears.
4. The Baronies:
Arguably, the biggest threat to Damara is the splintered spirit of Damara itself. The people of southern Damara generally aren't so supportive of the goings-on in the Barony of Bloodstone. This is particularly true in Heliogabalus and the other cities of Morov. They see Gareth Dragonsbane mainly as a conqueror, although so far a kindly one. The southern nobles have been capitalizing on their wounded pride to keep them from falling into the "King Gareth frenzy."
Here is where the "Twilight Riders" come in. Led by Emelyn the Gray and his fellow mage, Myrddin Viligoth, this mighty group races through the southern provinces after the sun has set. Astride magically-conjured steeds of light, they aid those in need and spread the truth about the happenings in the north. They take no payment from those they help, and ask for no oaths of allegiance. But their message is clear to the people. Cries of "King Gareth!" do not echo through the village streets in southern Damara, but those words are whispered door to door after the Twilight Riders have passed.
Whatever their official words might say, Gareth and his friends are determined to make Damara, hopefully Bloodstone, their home. Most agree that Gareth desires the kingship of a united nation. But even above that wish, scholars agree that the kindly Baron desires what is best for the people of Damara. He wants no further bloodshed, certainly no repeat of the Bloodstone Wars, and seeks an ascent to the throne on a wave of popular outcry so overwhelming that the other nobles won't dare oppose him. The power-hungry dukes and barons can see what is happening, and they aren't happy with the way the wind is blowing. In truth, though, there is little they can do to turn the tide.
It must be firmly stated that those who know Gareth Dragonsbane best are fully confident that it is not overweening ambition motivating the paladin. If the tide of opinion flowed another way; if the people opposed the formation of a Kingdom of Bloodstone; if they desired the return of the old Kingdom of Damara with one of the blooded heirs sitting on the royal throne, then Gareth would step down. The Baron of Bloodstone and his mighty friends will put their personal desires aside and willingly, faithfully serve the new king in the establishment of his realm.
Ironically, the people's faith only adds to his support. Few are those who think that Gareth and his companions act from self-serving ambition.